During the latest high school hoops season, the Prairiland Lady Patriots were historic in their accomplishments as a team. The Lady Pats finished fourth in a difficult district featuring perennial state contenders Winnsboro, Chapel Hill, and Mt. Vernon. Prairiland also won its home tournament over rival Chisum on the girls’ side and beat their Lady Mustang rivals all three times the two teams matched up including the Prairiland Tournament championship game.
In addition to these successes, the Lady Patriots had a breakthrough postseason performance as they advanced to the regional quarterfinals against district rival Chapel Hill following close wins in the bi-district and area rounds over New Boston and Harmony, respectively.
Prairiland girls basketball took massive steps under head coach Callie Tucker, who is preparing to enter her third season at the helm for the Lady Pats. She guided Prairiland to arguably its best season since 1993, the last time it qualified for the third round of the playoffs. Despite all of the success the program experienced last season, Tucker believes the growth her girls showed was the thing that impressed her the most.
“I think the biggest thing I saw throughout the year was the growth of our younger kids,” Tucker said. “We lost a great senior class, a big group of seniors who knew they had a job of bringing up the program after they left. The younger ones bought into that, and all the way down from juniors to seventh graders, you can just see the program starting to build. People want to be here. Sometimes the kids will pop off and talk about how they want to play and are more confident playing basketball. We saw huge growth in seeing the younger kids want to be in the gym.”
Along with great signs of growth of her players, Tucker experienced growth herself. From her time as a star player for the Lady Patriots basketball program to the point in her life now, Tucker appreciates how life has come full circle in both landmark accomplishments she has been a part of as both a player and coach all at a young age.
“I’ve always thought about being a head coach. I didn’t expect it to happen as soon as it did, but I’m kind of glad that it did more in my younger age,” Tucker said. “I can keep up with everybody and keep up with the younger players, which is all very helpful. When I was a senior, that was the first year we (Prairiland) won a playoff game in 17 years. So when I came back, I had a goal and said, ‘Okay, I want to be a part of the group of girls to take things to the next level.’ The girls bought in as well after hearing me share my experiences as a high school athlete. It’s really cool to be a part of both history-making moments in moving the program to the next level.”
It takes grit, guts, and determination to be a consistent winner on the court, but some challenges off the court can prove to be a taller order for Tucker. The things people don’t think about the most are aspects of coaching that prove to be just as difficult if not more.
“Some of the biggest challenges I’ve had is more of the behind-the-scenes stuff,” Tucker said. “I’m still pretty young in the game, so I still want to learn, and that really hasn’t been an issue for me. The scheduling, paperwork, and dealing with coaches out of the area can be difficult. We all respect each other as coaches in the area around here, and I’ve had all the respect I could ask for around here being younger. Once you kind of get out of this area, it gets a little more difficult to deal with some of the people you have to work with whether you like it or not.”
Even though being a young head coach proves to be a challenge in some ways, the 26-year-old knows there are plenty of benefits that come with her youth as well.
“On the positive side, I think the connection I have with the kids is what has propelled us so quickly,” Tucker said. “It’s hard to have a new coach come in, and you have to buy in right away. Sometimes it takes a couple of years and you have to get the kids integrated into the program that you’ve had from the beginning. These older kids really jumped on board quickly, and I want to create a culture for these kids where they know they can always come to me even after they graduate if they ever need anything. I’ve always had that in my life, and I think it will be good for them as well.”
Following her graduation from Prairiland High School, Tucker continued her basketball career at the next level. She played for four years at Ottawa University, a private, Baptist university in Ottawa, Kansas. The Braves compete in Region IV of the NAIA, and Tucker enjoyed her fit in Ottawa due to the similarities of a strong, family-oriented culture and the opportunity to play and learn more about the game of basketball.
“I knew I wanted to play college basketball, but when I went on my visit, I realized this was the environment I wanted to be in,” Tucker said. “I know I became a better person from being there, and I learned a lot of things from a coaching perspective that I really liked and didn’t like. It was helpful to watch the game from a coach’s standpoint with my coaches or to go to different games in general. For me, athletics has made me a better person in general and is a big part of who I am today. I think going to play in college helped do that for me. It’s a big shock to go from being a starter and a star from where you were at in high school, and then you go and play against people at your same level. I think that was big for me and a lot of my teammates. It’s even helped me be able to talk to these girls about their circumstances, their role on the team, and how to accept and excel in their role.”
She not only tries to bring her knowledge and passion to the world of sports but to other places as well. Tucker is changing the perception of girls’ basketball and high school band, too, both through the lens of her own experiences.
“I was actually in the drumline for all four years in high school,” Tucker said. “It’s pretty funny when the younger kids find out because they will say, ‘I’m not doing band, blah blah blah,’ And I will ask, ‘What’s wrong with it?’ They will keep rambling off stuff but I tell them about how I enjoyed being on the drumline, and I just like to have fun with it. I’ll go up there in the bleachers and play the drums with the kids in the band sometimes.”
Everyone has their own way of doing things, and each coach has their own individual style. Tucker cultivated her way of coaching from those before her, taking strong characteristics and qualities to help shape her own identity. Also, remembering funny times in her playing days has stuck with her and shows Tucker how times change, but memories last forever.
“I definitely get my energy and my hype-ness from Coach (Steven) Weddle, who is probably my favorite coach I’ve ever had,” Tucker said. “There were a couple of times where I remember him getting a little frustrated. We were playing at Melissa, back in the day, and they could go. We didn’t play so hot. He hit his hand on the whiteboard, pretty sure he broke his thumb. Then, he did something with his foot and kicked the other panel of the whiteboard and probably broke his toe. We get on the bus that night, and at this point, we don’t have Hudl and instead use DVDs. When we got on the bus, he told me, “Tucker, I’m just going to throw these away,” and I told him that was a good idea. Then, he asked me to come and look at his hand. It was swollen and entirely red, and he said, ‘I’m pretty sure it’s broken.’ He never officially got it checked out, but that was probably one of the funniest things that I still haven’t forgotten about.”
Tucker also shared a laugh recalling a game she and her team played against DeKalb on the road, where the Lady Bear opponents had everyone on the court laughing. The DeKalb players got plenty of laughs from their boisterous comments about needing tanks of oxygen due to eating too many whole turkeys over the Thanksgiving Holiday as they were being soundly beaten by Prairiland in the waning minutes of the contest.
With the humorous moments also came defining ones. During a late-season playoff push as an upperclassman, Tucker still recalls the fire her coach lit under her and her team during a struggle of a game against Leonard.
“We were playing at Leonard, and I was a junior or senior playing point guard at the time. We were fighting for a playoff spot, and I wasn’t playing too hot,” Tucker said. “Coach Weddle called a timeout. Then, he just stared at me and said, ‘Do you want to make playoffs?’ For the remaining 30 seconds, he didn’t say another word, and then he told us to get after it. It made me realize that you’re not going to be at your best all the time, but your teammates and coaches rely on you to do your best. It was a big thing that still sticks out to me.”
One constant for Tucker has been her roots. She knows where she is most comfortable, and no matter what she is up against, stepping onto the hardwood always has and will be therapeutic for her.
“Being in the gym is the best stress relief for me,” Tucker said. “If I’m in a mood or whatever, I can just walk in and it normally goes away, even if this (coaching) is what is stressing me out. I like having alone time in the gym to shoot baskets or play with my brothers at the civic center or somewhere else. Playing basketball is my biggest stress reliever for sure.”
As Tucker continues to embark on her post-playing basketball journey, the future looks bright for her and her girls as Tucker continues to build upon a strong foundation and culture she has begun creating.
Photo: Joe Watson